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What Is Acceptance and How You Can Apply It?

Mary-Lauren O’Crowley, MA, NCC, LPC

Our society is riddled with quick fixes. We want to find band-aids to cover our bullet holes in order to avoid the timely and often tumultuous process of healing. Even in therapy, we find ourselves teaching techniques to alleviate our symptoms. We want to make the negative feelings go away as quickly as possible so we find ways to distract or escape. In doing so, however, we ultimately feed into the notion that difficult feelings are bad. What’s more, that there is always a solution or that life should always feel good. The fact of the matter is, that life is filled with natural peaks and valleys, and acknowledging and accepting these deviations and the subsequent emotional experience can actually instill a greater sense of peace. When we can recognize, observe, and accept our experience without judgment, the emotion loses its power. 

Hayes (2004) describes acceptance as “taking a stance of non-judgmental awareness and actively embracing the experience of thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations as they occur.” All emotions are natural and part of the human experience and all emotions can be coped with and managed effectively. When these emotions undoubtedly arise, we can either accept them or we can resist them. But when we resist, we risk creating even more suffering. In fact, research shows that when we try to suppress or avoid difficult experiences or emotions, we can inflict further psychological damage. When we can take a step back and observe our experience without trying to change it, as is the path of acceptance, the emotion will naturally lessen in intensity. It also signals to our brain and nervous system that we are capable of handling difficult situations and emotions, thereby decreasing the body’s stress response. Keep reading to find out how we can begin to harness the power of acceptance.  

Ways To Begin Practicing Acceptance: 

Notice how you may avoid, suppress, or resist your experience. 

Challenge Negative Thoughts, Criticisms, And Doubt 

If you often find that you tell yourself things like “I can’t handle this” or “it’s too much,” you may actually be prolonging your suffering. Our thoughts and emotions are tied to one another, so when we get caught up in negative thoughts, it can quickly cause our emotional state to deteriorate. On the other hand, when we actively work to keep our thoughts positive, encouraging, and supportive, our mood will reflect that. Next time you feel overwhelmed, sad, angry, or frustrated,  try giving yourself permission to feel this way. Gently encourage yourself and provide support as you would a friend or loved one. 

Let Feelings and Thoughts Come Without Judging Them or Acting On Them 

Thoughts and feelings can be difficult to contend with. It is hard to believe, but the voice inside of our heads is not always truthful. Our brains were designed to keep us safe, which means assessing every threat and “preparing” us for every possible negative consequence. We have to actively work to either refute these thoughts or accept them for what they are: thoughts not facts.

Be Aware of Areas for Growth and Improvement but Also Celebrate Your Strengths 

We are so quick to judge and criticize ourselves and our experiences. When we work to accept ourselves as we are in this very moment, scars and all, we create space for genuine healing. Try giving yourself as much credit for your success as you do for your perceived failures and see how your internal experience shifts. 

While you cannot always control what happens or what thoughts pop into your mind, you do have control over how you act and react. 

As children, we often felt helpless to fix situations in our lives. We could not choose a different path or a different life; however, as adults, we can. We have agency over our own actions and behaviors. When we can recognize and accept this, we can learn to stay silent instead of overreacting and inflicting pain on others. 

If you or someone you know would like to learn more about acceptance, please reach out to the intake specialists at Symmetry Counseling to get discover how therapy in Chicago can help!


Hayes S.C., Follette V.M., Linehan M.M.. Mindfulness and acceptance: Expanding the cognitive behavioral tradition. The Guilford Press, New York, NY

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